February 27, 2007

Assuming the worst

I really am enjoying my job. This is a good thing. It's an excellent starting point (okay, I'm not that young, jumping point) for a career, and one, that I am oh-so-well aware (both from friends who've made this trip before and those who are in the journey now), is not the norm.

So I am thankful each day when I find myself smiling because of something new I learned. Or something I know I did well. Or something I just love about my job.

But this passion comes with a down side. I haven't learned to leave my job be in peace. Despite my confidence. Despite the knowledge that I am very good at what I do. I still strive for excellence with a drive that is somewhat pathological. Even when I'm on deals with no time pressure, I dream about work. I wake up in the middle of the night fearful that I forgot to include an important clause. I check my email before my morning runs and become engrossed to the point where I have to cut my mileage for the day because, what-if-I-don't-respond-'til-I-show-up-at-the-office? I do email and work at night despite knowing that my hours are fine because, well... why not? There's stuff to do and... well...

Eventually, this crap will have to stop. Towards this end, slowly, I'm learning some tricks.

One of the best so far was an accident. One night, I left my phone/PDA in the office instead of charging it by my bedside and realized that I didn't wake at 3 and 4 and 5 AM when the random emails arrived from those to whom I owed a response by mid-day (the next day). So now, I put my phone in the other room while I sleep (unless I'm on a deal that has to close tomorrow, in which case, it wakes me and I groggily get up to check it, and go to the computer, and respond, if need be). Occasionally, I find myself sending ASAP emails in the night and then closing out the details by following up with one of those 3 or 4 or 5 AM emails requesting a mid-day the next-day response from the recipient that I generally attribute to insanity from my colleagues. Scary. Occasionally, fine, for me. But I believe it should be a choice. So I try to avoid it on a regular basis.

Another trick I'm learning is to have non-phone time. Just completely not available. I remember when my dad was ill. That's when I couldn't stand to have my phone off. That was a good reason to be attached to an electronic leash during a nice dinner. But a deal? One I'm not in charge of? One I've done enough work on thus far and they are happy with my work? Well... it can wait 'til after the wine from Manresa metabolizes and sleep clears the caloric indulgence fog. What's more, my knowledge that they need a response won't get it too them any faster if I see it after dinner. It'll just mess with my sleep. So, I'm learning to draw those lines, too. If it's truly a social time, then go big. Go home. And check your email when you wake up.

Is that so hard?

Yes. It is. Because I assume the worst. You want me as your lawyer because I'm a cynic. I read a contract and imagine the worst case scenario where the contract fucks you. But I also do this in my own life. I imagine scenarios where I don't check my email and deals don't close and I am to blame and everyone hates me and I'm doing a horrid job and, and, and...

Sad thing is: I'm not kidding here. And, after many frank discussions, I truly believe I have better self esteem than most first year lawyers. Most of 'em don't even realize that they have these doomsday complexes which simultaneously make them very good at what they do and very likely to under-bill, very likely to take shit from their superiors that they don't have to take, and very likely to have a terrible life, which, by the way, is probably somehow correlated with the statistics about the high levels of suicide, substance abuse, and depression in lawyers.

So, this post is basically just to let you know that at least 2 or 3 times a day I have the terror. The feeling that I'm fucking up. The feeling that someone has to know I'm just winging it. The oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit-should-I-really-hit-send paralysis.

I think, in part, the legal education is to blame. We are educated in a system that rewards perfect answers. We are then hired into a system that does not give us the time (because the clients can't afford it, or because we have too much work, or because it just doesn't make sense to spend that much money to mitigate a particular risk) to find perfect answers. Instead, it asks us to give answers that we know when we utter them are likely wrong. There is nothing wrong with this. We are just inequipped to handle it.

And it's very, very, stressful.

Especially because if you got here, you are likely a very successful and critical cynic.

And now, that cynicism is directed to yourself.

But, I would like to say that despite the negatives, I do love my job. And I look forward to finding more tricks, and more ways to balance, and more ways to do this well, for a long time.

Wish me luck!

February 25, 2007

Meandering Psuedo-Review: Manresa

Last night, E and I had a very enjoyable evening with C&V at Manresa. It had been on our to visit list for quite some time after H&O had such a great meal for their anniversary last year.

Plus, the first Bay Area Michelin Guide gave it two stars. And, well, I've never been to a two star Michelin restaurant before. (Actually, I just grabbed the guide, and realized that's not a true statement. I hadn't realized that Aqua had received two stars. I've been there once, in 1999, long prior to the Michelin man's endorsement. I was annoyed by the pretension of the staff and crowd to the point where it overshadowed my memory of the food. Of course, that was during the first bubble. I have no idea how I'd find it now.)

So, when C sent an email announcing that they had a baby sitter and were looking for people join them at Manresa, we jumped. I'm glad we did.

By far, our favorite part of the night was the 4 hours of conversation with C&V. We haven't hung out with them, just us, in at least 5 years. Doing so surrounded by good food accompanied by good wine made the experience even better.

So, the night gets 4 stars. And, perhaps, that is why people select restaurants like this. Because even when the restaurant is slightly disappointing, it is still very, very good.

While much about the experience was very impressive, and, no doubt, the reason for the restaurant's repute, the honest critique must say that the restaurant itself was hit and miss.

In my opinion, the amuse bouches were the best part of the dinner, culinarily speaking.

We started our journey with tiny black olive madeleines and roasted bell pepper gelées coated in sugar crystals. Very interesting.

Then, we were presented deep fried finger-bites filled with a liquid center of cream and foie gras. The warning to pop the entire thing in your mouth was *much* appreciated as the liquid would have dripped down your hand and chin if you tried to bite it in two. Delicious. Oddly, not as heavy as the description would make you think.

The entire table agreed, that the last amuse bouch, the Golden Egg was every bit as good as the hype would indicate. The soft boiled egg sprinkled with sea salt on chilled sherry cream, topped with baby chives and a drizzling of maple syrup was one of the more subtly complex melody of flavors I'd ever experienced. I must admit, when C emailed that we would have to call ahead for more than one egg per person, I was a) impressed that she was doing her research; b) chagrined that I had no idea what she was talking about; c) too busy to follow up; and d) comfortable in the general certainty that I probably wouldn't go hungry with just one of anything. After dinner, when V said the egg was a tribute to another chef, I was impressed with his research too. None other than Alain Passard, huh? I think that was his signature on a menu in the women's restroom, but I can't be sure.

Another thing Manresa did well was modify the tasting menu to the tastes of C, who is a bit of a picky eater. To C's credit, I've eaten multiple meals with her and was completely unaware of her food needs, which in my opinion, is the mark of a courteous dining companion. Further to her credit, she took the opportunity to be a bit adventurous with food and try things she'd never had before, like sashimi. Given that I enjoy watching people eat something for the first time, this discovery about C was like a special bonus prize for me.

The misses were bummers, however. The first miss was the appearance of the restaurant near our table. As C pointed out upon seating, the curtain rod above our table was an exposed, non-ornamental brass rod, and not completely screwed into the wall. Plus, we were seated with our table pressed up against a glass door. I know restaurants need exits, but, given that no one was going to be using this one while we were seated here, I would have preferred that the curtains actually covered it, both to keep out the draft and to make the sight to my immediate right a little more pleasing than the metal push bar.

The second miss was the timing of the drink service. While C and I enjoyed our cava with the amuse bouches, the gentlemen were left with water. This seemed odd to me for two reasons: 1) C&V had ordered the wine pairing and the amuse bouches portion of the meal took at least 45 minutes. 2) E and I had ordered a bottle of wine to share throughout the meal but were not asked when we would like to enjoy it. At the laundry we enjoyed one amuse bouche with our water while we selected our wines. From then on, our glasses were silently filled with our selections or we were asked whether we would like something with each presentation. Local favorite Chez TJ has been blessed by the tire company with only one star, but it also provides constant communication and service on the drink service. In fact, in my recent memory, I cannot recall a single meal where the servers ignored the fact that the patrons had ordered drinks but that they had not been served. Granted, this is probably because most restaurants make up the majority of their profits from alcohol sales, but whatever the reason, it was a very noticeable omission of service.

The third miss would explain why the gentlemen did not order cocktails. E, because we ordered a bottle of wine to enjoy plus the timing, but C didn't order a cocktail because Manresa only serves beer, wine, sherry, and port. I have no idea how important this is because E and I rarely drink hard alcohol. However, on many occasions I've sat across from dining companions enjoying a scotch or martini before the main courses. Perhaps this would be a serious deterrent to them with regards to Manresa?

The fourth miss, is just a general theme. I felt that there was not enough communication between the wait staff and our table. The tasting menu was not on the printed menu, which is completely understandable. However, the server did not provide enough detail when discussing the meal with us, merely saying the type of the protein in each course, often skipping the preparation style and entirely skipping the accoutrements. For the wine pairings, she only vaguely knew the style of the wines. Her presentation of the tasting menu was boring, and not very informative. I know, it's a French restaurant, I'm supposed to want to experience the genius of the star chef and not need to be sold on it like the American that I am. But, truly, after her presentation, I was leaning towards the 4 course menu over the tasting menu if only because I'd know what I was about to experience.

While the amuse bouches were consistently amazing, the actual courses, were hit and miss. The foie gras presentation was just too much. I literally had a piece of seared foie gras that was 1/2 an inch tall and at least 3 inches square in area. Although it was presented with pears, and a few other side items to cut the overwhelming fat, it was not enjoyable and 3 of us requested our plates to be cleared with half of the foie gras remaining.

The next course, if I remember the ordering correctly, was Oyster with Sea Urchin in its own jelly with a bit of nori. I was very impressed with this dish. Sea urchin is not something I love, what with the warm cat tongue texture thing, and all. But oysters are. So, it could have gone either way. The sea urchin jelly was delicious and a texturally perfect complement to the oyster. The nori was crunchy as a slight distraction. This preparation minimized the sea urchin texture while maximizing the flavor. Impressive and delicious. At dessert, C realized that her modification was actually a serving of the citrus dessert course. If she loved it, this would be fine. But I got the impression that she would have preferred the same number of distinct courses as the rest of us received. On the other hand, she wouldn't have eaten oyster and sea urchin, so perhaps it was better to have a repeat. I tend to think that while ordinarily, picky eaters should be willing to graciously compromise, when at a restaurant where the chef claims to be willing to modify the menu to suit any need or desire, either the chef or the server should have paid enough attention to ensure that the modifications didn't result in a course repeat in the tasting menu.

The next course, amberjack sashimi, was fabulous. It was sliced so thin that it was almost see-through and it was presented in a flower arrangement of thin petals in a circular indentation in the middle of a large white plate holding a shiru dashi with roasted sesame seeds, minced baby chives, and minced nori. C's vegetarian option was fresh parmegiano in a bright green vegetable puree that was poured over the cheese at the table for a gorgeous presentation that we all enjoyed. The combination of these two courses at the table at the same time was one of the high points of the evening. Also, the wine pairing allowed for an option of sake or wine (V went with sake that was dry excellent) and the white wine paired with C's modification was my favorite white of the evening (a crisp sauvingnon blanc blend).

The abalone was interesting with its bagna cauda crust, but it was too tough to cut. The white fish, on the other hand, was a simple delicious presentation that was amazingly tender and perfectly cooked. The local spot prawn on half its exoskeleton (I'm sure that's not how you say it in foodie terms, but you get my drift) with exotic Indian herbs (that looked like caviar) on a bed of sauteed spinach was a gorgeous presentation but just above average in terms of flavor and, again, very difficult to cut.

The chicken, an ingredient I find almost universally uninspiring, was phenomenal. Poularde may just be better than what I think of as chicken in the United States. Because I do find that chicken outside the US is less lame, on average. Whatever the explanation, this dish was amazing. The breast was stuffed to a perfectly round cylinder and sliced to a circle presentation of tender, juicy, delicious chicken filled with a delicious chestnut stuffing. I was amazed that chicken could be so flavorful and thankful for the chef's reminder that my dislike for chicken is, at times, unjust.

The lamb was similarly excellent to the chicken, both in terms of presentation and in terms of flavor. C's alternative of suckling pig topped with a small frozen chocolate sheet was very rich, and perfect for the one bite that I sampled, although I'm not certain I'd want an entire dish of it.

Dessert came in three stages and like the amuse bouches, was consistently excellent. First, we were presented a martini glass full of citrus based gratinée over citrus fruit and whipped cream. Clean. Bright. An excellent palate cleanser. Then, we were given a shot glass full of thick dark warm chocolate happiness surrounding a few cherries topped with foam of some sort and chocolate paper. Damn. Gorgeous presentation and delicious.

In an excellent circularity, the final presentation was a silver tray that looked exactly like the first amuse bouche. This one was chocolate madeleines and raspberry (I think) gelées. I thought this visual repetition for the opening and closing was very clever and symbolic.

As a final note, the wine pairings were generally superb. They modified them for C's modified menu where appropriate and we were able to sample two sets of wine pairings, which we unabashedly passed around the table. C's favorite was a 2000 arneis. I'd never heard of this grape before, which apparently was almost extinct and is now making a comeback in Piedmont, so I'm excited to learn of a new wine that fits my wine tastes (somewhere between a floral sauvignon blanc and a cleaner, dry viognier). It looks like my local winestore even carries a few. E and I ordered a bottle of the Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel pinot noir rhone blend (see the comments where Jason Haas from Tablas Creek politely corrected me. How cool is that?) which was excellent. I love going to a restaurant and ordering a bottle in the hopes that it will be good only to have it exceed my expectations. I savored this wine with each sip and enjoyed the table's (and particularly C's enjoyment of it) as well. Just another great thing about the evening.

The only exception to the otherwise excellent pairings, the burgundy they selected for pairing with V's lamb was a bit on the sedimenty, syrupy side. It reminded me of France, so I smiled. But C pointed out that just because it reminds me of memories doesn't make the wine taste good. She was right. They could have done better. In fact, since we tasted the lamb with it, in my opinion they would have been better off going with Tablas Creek.

The final thing I sincerely enjoyed about Manresa was their obvious commitment to allowing patrons to fully savor the eating experience. We didn't order until 9 PM and we did not leave the restaurant until midnight.

All in all, a wonderful night.

February 24, 2007

Deep Fried Dinner

After much research, it would appear there are exactly three well-known uses for cheese curds: cheese, deep fried cheese curds, and poutine.

While some day I may try to make cheese, this week did not contain that day. And, well, I've never been to Canada despite multiple trips that have failed to materialize for one reason or another, so I figure I should save poutine for the real thing, which WILL happen one day.

According to the Internets, the best deep fried cheese curds are at the Minnesota State Fair, although there was an impressive collection of posts in favor of the Wisconsin State Fair's offerings as well. I read all the recipes I could find and determined that I like the addition of corn meal to batter and that I would go with a beer-based batter instead of a milk or buttermilk-based batter.

In keeping with our Deep Fried History, E, G, and I settled into the kitchen for the dinner of fried.

Oddly, I found the act of deep frying viscerally satisfying. Must be the danger. So, if you are looking for a greasy but delicious and fun dinner, see below.

Fair warning: even if you serve these with a hefty salad, they are addictive and heavy and may have a side effect of making you think you can consume more wine than you should.

Deep Fried Cheese Curds

2 lbs cheese curds
1 cup flour
1/4 cup corn meal
1-2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1/2 can of beer

1. Mix all the ingredients except the cheese curds together until the batter is a thick liquid consistency.

2. Dip each cheese curd in the batter, place on a cookie sheet. When the cookie sheet is full, freeze. (Note, silpat was a lifesaver here because the cookie sheets were too unwieldy to get into the freezer but the sheets are maneuverable and bend. Plus the frozen cheese curds just popped off with no mess before frying. Give the freezing at least 30 minutes, an hour is probably better.)

3. Heat a wok or other large open pot full of vegetable oil (I used saffola) to 375F. (Thanks to my aunt for the candy thermometer!)

4. Drop about 5-8 curds in at a time and let sizzle 'til golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel covered plate.

5. Return the oil to 375F and repeat frying until done.

6. Feel free to experiment with the left over batter, I coated an anaheim pepper and dropped it in the oil without freezing and it came out wonderfully as well.

February 19, 2007

Choco-riffic recipe #5

I decided to get back on the chocolate train.

It's been over 2 months since I completed one of the 6 promised recipes. So, last night when E2 came over and brought The Devil Wears Prada, it seemed like a perfect opportunity.

These cookies are good. But they are also crumbly and they make a huge mess in the kitchen. Honestly, I can't imagine making them again. These cookies, with all of their chocolate, are in the same category as brownies, which are easier to make and store and if made properly taste better. So, I'd rather have brownies. Is that so wrong?

Double Chocolate Cookies
(modified from "The Best of Fine Cooking: Chocolate 2006")

-5 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped.

-1/2 bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used bittersweet chips, which I know you aren't supposed to do because the stuff they put in 'em to make 'em keep their shape makes 'em sub-par for melting, but I did it anyways!)

-1/4 cup unsalted butter,cut into 4 pieces (Turns out the original recipe called for 1/2 cup, but I used less. They were extra sticky on the cookie sheet. My unintentional fat reduction could be part of the cause of the messiness...)

-4 large eggs

-1 1/2 C sugar

-1/4 t. vanilla extract

-2.5 oz (heaping 1/2 cup or so) all-purpose flour

-1/2 t. baking powder

-5 oz. pecans, broken into pieces

1. Melt the unsweetened chocolate, the butter, and 4 oz. of the bittersweet chocolate in a saucepan. Remove from heat to cool.

2. Whip the eggs and sugar with a whisk attachment 'til thick & light (about 10 minutes on medium w/kitchenaid.)

3. On low speed, add the melted chocolate and vanilla and mix 'til well-blended.

4. Fold in flour, baking powder, remaining bittersweet chocolate and walnuts.

5. Freeze for approximately an hour. Preheat oven for 350F.

6. Using teaspoons, drop cookies 3 inches apart. If you use tablespoons, give 'em 4 inches.

7. Bake until cracked on top (approx 15 minutes).

8. Let cookies cool on the sheet for 1 minute before transferring to a rack to cool.

February 18, 2007

Eating Her Curds? Is There a Way?

At the farmer's market, the the cheese lady sold me some aged gouda, which I knew I wanted when I approached.

She was also selling curds.

During 3L, I tasted curds near Portland at the the Tillamook cheese factory. I loved them. They reminded me of Paneer, one of my favorite Indian foods. So, today, when I saw she was selling them, I bought them, confident I could find a way to use them. I often buy ingredients I don't know much about and enjoy the process of researching and learning how to use them.

But Curds? Well, I'm stumped. I've consulted all of my stand-by cooking resources.

The New Food Lover's Companion (a gift from E2), confirmed that curds are the semi-solid portion of the milk when it curdles, from which cheese is made. I think I more-or-less suspected that, but I hadn't really thought it all the way through.

Curds, it would seem, are a pre-ingredient. And thus, I may be learning to make the ingredient (cheese) as a result of this purchase.

To see if there were any easier preparations, I read the entire Cheese cookbook in my women's day encyclopedia (how much do I love a day off at home???). Thirteen pages and pictures of cheese. I know much more about cheese than I did this morning. I have several more recipes to make. I agree with the encyclopedia article writer who wrote, "[Cheese] is a nearly perfect food with a great many of the essential food elements the body needs, such as proteins, fats, and vitamins, with the excellent taste and enormous variety to make it appealing to all." However, the mention of curds was less than helpful, "Generally it is the curd which is pressed, treated, and ripened into a great variety of cheeses."

The internet has also been less than helpful. The only useful option I have found is to go the Wisconsonian route and make deep fried cheese curds. I'm tempted. But it doesn't really fit into this week's menu. I was kind of hoping for a slightly more healthy option...

Also, I'm wondering how long they keep in the fridge. So, I'm back to my typical quandry... worried that food in the fridge will go bad.

So, does anyone have any knowledge or suggestions for curd recipes? Or am I really going to be forced to decide between a foray into the world of cheese-making or a dinner of fried? Don't get me wrong, both sound like lovely options. But my 3-day weekend is almost over and dinner of fried during the week is a bit much, don't you think? Perhaps I'll just have E invite all the boys...
Thankful Sunday Thoughts and Observations

This weekend, we're at home and I don't have to do any law work.

Yesterday, I did our taxes. Then I did Dad's estate's taxes. Then I did brother's taxes. Each finished task improved my already wonderful mood (it was sunny, too!).

To top off the day, E and I went out to a dinner at the restaurant that catered our wedding and then we enjoyed one of the best live music performances I've ever experienced (an awesome christmas gift from E's parents).

I went to bed early. I slept in.

Today's run, after more than 9 hours of sleep, was a *very slow* 6 miles. It was my first *long run* since the marathon. I am definitely still recovering, physiologically. My legs wanna move slow and my lungs agree. It would seem that in addition to the muscular damage, my cardiovascular system took a fairly serious hit from the 11 day hiatus from the running shoes while my muscles recovered. My average pace for today's 6-miler was about a minute and a half slower than the marathon. It felt good to run slowly and watch the world go by.

After the run, I gleefully headed to the local farmer's market. How the time flies! My last trip had been during autumn harvest. This time, before spring has sprung, the fresh offerings were much more limited. I picked up a few fresh items for this week's menu, but spent most of my time exploring the fish and prepared items.

From the Russian food tent, I grabbed a take-home lunch for E and me of spinach (and maybe cheese, but we sure didn't taste it) piroshki. Mmm...

Plus, I found the cheese lady. In truth, it was she who gave me the strength to walk away from the Molinari tent.

Like most Americans, I often feel compelled to buy more food than I could possibly consume or prepare. The fish tent? Fresh mustard greens? Bok choy? Onions? Garlic? Indian food? Russian food? The Cheese Lady? The Baker's tent? The Molinari tent? The French Sausage tent? The Chinese Food tent? How could anyone fail to be tempted?

In defiance of this, I rarely buy too much food. I do my best to force myself to clean out the fridge. Staples can sit in the cupboard, but food that goes bad--I have a very strong aversion to buying too much of it. When I see a fridge full of food that could spoil, I feel pressure to use it. I feel guilt about waste. I also know that it isn't healthy to feed us more than we need. Who needs stress from the fridge? Not me. Not this weekend.

See, I'm feeling very thankful for this weekend at home with no work. I haven't received a single work-related email since 6 PM on Friday.

I relaxed by spending a date night with E, crossing items of the administrative to-do list, working out, planning a menu, buying ingredients (not necessarily in that order, see the curd post...), and just taking time to enjoy the basic life stuff like buttercups in our front yard and happy hour with some old work colleagues on Friday. At the farmer's market, today, because I knew I couldn't buy all the food that looked delicious, I took the time to window shop, as it were. It's been a while since I've had a Sunday where I can be as decadently lazy and able to enjoy each moment as I have been today.

And, thanks to President's day, I still have tomorrow to relax some more.

[Big contented sigh of happiness]

February 15, 2007


Lucky_girl asked if I would post the eggplant tomato risotto recipe from Valentine's day.

But, I won't. Why? Well...You know what they say about giving a man a fish...Instead, let me teach you to make risotti.

Biba says, Risotto, a rice dish, is one of the most splendid of all Italian Preparations...The possibilities for the flavor base of risotto are endless. Savory meats, cheeses, vegetables, herbs, sausage, ragus, shellfish, or game are added at different stages of the cooking process, giving risotto an ever-changing identity. It is one of the most versatile dishes in Italian gastronomy.

To tell the truth, I never read that passage before tonight. In fact, I am surprised and pleased to find that Italy Al Dente contains 34 Risotto recipes.

I learned to truly love risotto while I was studying Italian in Italy. Ahhh.... one of the best decisions of my life... laid off from the dot com bubble burst, I packed up my things and headed to Italy. I came home with wine to age, cooking skills, and an appreciation for relaxation that I never could have imagined. But, I digress...

The school cook made risotto once a week or so. But the local restaurants/bars had it available upon request. I ordered it regularly. Never once, in the more than 2 months I was in Italy, was a dish of risotto the same as a previous one. I came to realize that it was more of a style of cooking than a dish. It was a style I loved. And, it was a style that appealed to my sense of efficiency and economy because it was open to including just about any left-overs that were available.

Biba says, Two ingredients always part of a risotto are rice and broth. She goes on to discuss the need for the appropriate rice. Italo-philes (and Biba) will claim you need Arborio, Vialone Nano, or Carnaroli. But I'm not lying when I tell you that I've made many a risotto with California's poster-child Calrose rice and so long as you are adding some sort of binding agent (anything with its own sugar, starch, or fat) no one will complain.

Purists will also claim that you must constantly stir the risotto as it simmers and that you must add the broth pre-heated, a small portion at a time. Ridiculous purists will additionally claim you need to make your own broth.

Let's be frank. Who has time for that shit?

NOT ME. At least not on a regular basis. And, after probably at least 100 risotti prepared and served, I can say with authority: it's true that when you do it the old-fashioned way, it's better. When you use the recommended rice, it does tend to be slightly more interesting, texturally speaking. When you use pre-warmed broth (because even when I make turkey broth from the thanksgiving carcass, I still chill it and have to re-heat it for later use. I'm not making broth and risotto on the same day!) and/or when you continuously stir, more starch is released from the rice, resulting in a creamier texture.

But, 90% of the goods are in the basics. And the basics are this:

1. Chop 1/2 to 1 white/yellow onion. In a pinch, you can use a red onion.
2. Drizzle cooking oil 2 or 3 times around the outside of a large casserole (or sautee pan, or stock pot, or whatever). Heat oil on medium and add onions, stirring quickly.
3. Optional (but I don't think I've ever opted out): finely mince 3-4 cloves garlic. Toss into the oil/onions and stir vigorously for a minute or so 'til the onions are clear.
4. Add rice and stir. Keep adding rice and stiring 'til there's no longer a visible layer of oil on the bottom of the pan.
5. Add the first dousing of liquid. Many recipes use an alcohol here to add sugar (white wine, vodka, vermuth, feel free to skip this step, I often do, especially when I'm going to use stewed tomatoes).
6. The broth phase: Vegetarian broth; Chicken broth; Beef broth; Fish broth; Boullion cubes and water; Whatever strikes your fancy, really. If you're hard core, add just a little that's boiling when you add it. If you're me, dump in a can of broth, stir, leave to simmer and come back to stir every few minutes. When the liquid has been absorbed and/or boiled off, take a forkful and test the rice. Keep adding more liquid and re-testing the rice 'til the rice is al dente (still responds to the teeth as something to bite through, but relatively soft).
7. Once the rice is al dente and the liquid is all absorbed, you're done. Toss in your binding agent if you're using one (cream, butter, cheese, etc.), stir 'til it's evenly mixed throughout, and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Variations: substitute canned stewed tomatoes for some of the broth -- they contribute additional starch, act as a binding agent and the flavor is excellent. Add vegetables towards the end of the cycle (Carrots, frozen eggplant, 15 minutes before done. Brocolli, chopped fresh tomatoes, 7-8 minutes before done. Mushrooms, early, like immediately after the rice is browned. Meat, if pre-cooked, add at the same time as the binding agent. If raw, follow a recipe.)

Many happy returns.

February 14, 2007

2 Valentine's Day Hints

1. It is best not to proclaim, "I'm so happy the deal that was the bane of my existence closed yesterday." I've got quite a few new options competing for the title.

2. If you find yourself with too much fresh eggplant, you can chop it into 1/2 inch cubes and freeze it in ziplocks. These, you can add to risotto about 15 minutes before the risotto is ready. (Valentine's day eggplant tomato risotto was a hit!)

February 13, 2007

The Choice I Have Made

For the last 9 days or so, I've been on two big deals that were supposed to close *today* but things kept going wrong. I was also assigned to the typical assortment of small deals and projects.

Deadlines keep getting missed on the big projects. New deadlines were set. Everyone feels pressure to get things done. And knowing that everyone else feels pressure makes me feel like I *have* to do my part even faster and better than I ordinarily would. Then there's the small deal and projects which keep getting put on hold for the bigger ones. Oh, and the whole first-year lawyer don't really know what I'm doing thing. Basically, I've been disappointing people left and right.

Everything I'm doing feels like it isn't getting done as well as I'd like it to be done. I'm not getting enough sleep. I worked through the weekend. In response to an emergency email, I had to ask to use lucky_girl's office while at her house for a girls' brunch.

Monday night, I had dinner plans with lucky_girl. Both of my deals were supposed to be closed by the evening. One did close. There was much rejoicing. But at 2 PM, I got the dreaded email asking if I would be available after 6 PM to turn the documents one more time.

I sent lucky_girl an email and explained the situation. She came down for dinner anyways. We had a fabulous time. But, I had to check my PDA *every* time it buzzed. Which, was approximately every 15 minutes from 8 PM 'til 11 PM.

I like to be completely present when I interact with my friends and family. If there isn't an emergency at work, I am trying to ignore my buzzing PDA. But when there is a true emergency, I really have no choice.

This is the choice I have made. I love the practice that I have chosen. Most days I want to pinch myself to make sure that I really get paid to do what I do. But the last 9 or so, I haven't needed to pinch myself.

Socially, I've had to be only partially present, both with friends and family. My anxiety levels have been higher than I like them to be, my diet has suffered, my sleep has been poor and I haven't gotten as much as I need, and if I wasn't recovering from a marathon, I'd probably be pissed about how little exercise I've been getting as well.

The madness is temporarily over. But it took a serious toll on me, physically, and emotionally. I woke this morning, refreshed from a full night's sleep for the first time in over 10 days. Learning how to balance my way through periods like this is going to be one of the more difficult things about being a lawyer.

February 11, 2007

Yoga, Yoga, Yoga

Long before I finished the marathon, I promised myself a month of heavy-yoga and light-running to recuperate. I'm a week out and I haven't logged a mile. My legs feel recovered, more or less, but I'm enjoying the down time. Everything I read agreed: unless you are an elite runner used to running over 100 miles per week (yeah right!), then, you can't run for 3 days after a marathon, no matter how much you want to. Turns out, I didn't really want to, so that wasn't much of a problem. Also, after 3 days, the recovery theories are all over the place. Some say you could do a 10K in a month, others, a marathon in a month, others say no hard miles for 26 days (no speed training, no hills, and definitely no racing). I figured I'd err on the side of caution and substitute in some additional yoga, since my strength and stretching took a bit of a hit during the marathon training.

On Friday, for the first time since the marathon, I felt like I wanted to workout. Not much, mind you. But a little. So, I did 20 minutes of the easier flows from Shiva Rea's Yoga Shakti and I was done. I left for work relaxed and calm.

Saturday, I did the basic flow from the same DVD and I finished in an almost overpowering meditative state. Physically, the workout was not that demanding, but mentally, I had not experienced that level of release from stress in at least several months. I was amazed that such a powerful calm could arise from breathing through such a simple and non-physically demanding series of movements, if done in the right frame of mind. Too bad I rarely attain that frame of mind.

Because I typically need a physically demanding workout to get me to the point where meditation does me any good, I figured I should spend some more time investigating Ashtanga Yoga. I bought David Swenson's The Primary Series DVD. I have his book and have tried to do the primary series from it several times, but it is too annoying to look down to the book every other minute for guidance.

Once, I took an Ashtanga Primary Series class in a studio, and while I found the large room of rhythmic movement and breathing to be a great workout, and quite difficult, I did not find that I liked the class environment. So, I figured a DVD of the primary series from the acknowledged expert in the US on this type of practice would be the way to go.

This explains how, this morning, E2 and I worked our way through as much of the primary series DVD as we could handle. HOLY CRAP. David Swenson's take on the primary series looks very different that what I saw when I took the class. All sorts of vinyasas ending in handstands(!). All sorts of other crap there's not room to do in my living room including rolling around like a bug. All sorts of stuff that makes our travel sticky mats completely inadequate for practice. And, let's not forget that he's something of an alien and hyper flexible in weird ways, and he did the whole DVD in a purple tank top and tight white spandex shorts, which inspired E2 to bust out with, "But, I don't want to see your PeePee!" every time we'd get just a little too much in view.

Apparently, the introduction to this DVD describes the modifications you can make while following along, but E2 and I fast-forwarded through that last night, so we had no idea. All of a sudden, running more and doing less yoga this month sounds more appealing.

I guess I'm more like those people who immediately start planning their next marathon and want to get back in their shoes too soon than I thought.

But no, I'll stay on my original plan. I will put in some quality time with this DVD. If nothing else, I'd like to get to the point where I know a modified version of the primary series by heart so I can lead myself through it without the DVD. Also, I'm already starting to get sore, so I know it was as great of a workout as it felt like it was.

February 7, 2007

Winter Wonder Food: Potatoes

I think I've neglected the potato in the past. But this winter, I've found it to be everything I need in a food: Nutrious. Delicious. Long shelf life. And well-suited to baking in one-dish baked extravaganzas when I clean out the fridge/pantry and do other things while dinner is being prepared by modern appliances.

Tonight's offering from the kitchen of use whatever the hell is lying around:

Broiled Potatoes & Vegetables From the Mexican Joint

-5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves peeled off
-10 leaves fresh oregano, torn in half or so
-2 russet potatoes, washed and chopped into 1/4 inch X 1/2 inch or so chunks
-extra virgin olive oil, for baking (read: the good stuff, but nothing great, you won't notice the subtle greatness after close to an hour in the oven at 400F)
-1 cup leftover vegetables from tequila sauteed fajitas last night (read: strips of bell peppers, yellow onions, broccoli, etc.)
-garlic salt
-black pepper
-grated parmigiano

Preheat oven to 400F. Mix all ingredients in an 8X12 or larger baking dish (pyrex works for me). Drizzle with enough olive oil that the entire mixture is glistening, but not drowning after mixture. Sprinkle with a light dusting of parmigiano. Cook for approximately 45 minutes (one hour if you are me and you put it in while the oven is heating).


(Note: this dish is excellent for those suffering from teeth issues--mmmm, soft, delicious, chewing optional, potatoes...)

February 5, 2007

A marathon starts at mile 0

Tonight, my mom, sweet mom, asked me, "How long was the marathon you ran?" "Ummm... 26.2 miles." "Wow. That's a long marathon." "Ummm... Mom. All marathons are 26.2 miles." "Oh. Really? Well, now I know. You learn something new every day. I'm so proud of you."

Anyways, I'm alive. My mom is proud. E is proud. Many of my friends have let me know that they are proud. I beat an 86 year old man by at least 2 minutes, so I'm proud [grin]. Also, I didn't expect the marathon itself to be so fun. I must say, I have become a complete and total convert. Assuming I recover, there will be another one on the schedule for the winter.

I worship the ground that Hal Higdon walks/jogs/runs on and recommend that everyone who wants to experience a *pleasant* marathon read Marathon--The Ultimate Training Guide. I read it last year in prep for the marathon that wasn't and I read it again this year. I attribute my lack of injuries, my ability to complete the entire race relatively pain free at slightly better than my targeted pace, and my physical stamina (read: I did NOT hit the wall) during the race to following the advice in this book.

The focus on a *pleasant* marathon is huge, in my opinion. I saw too many people on that course who were breathing much too hard, grunting, limping, etc. They did not appear to be enjoying themselves. Sure, professional athletes sacrifice their short term physical well-being for the sport. But that's their JOB. This, you crazy runners, is supposedly your HOBBY. I mean, let's be honest, if I saw you at any point on the course, you were never in contention for the winner's circle. So you might as well slow down to the pace where you can enjoy yourself.

To pass the time, I dedicated some of the miles to various people. I did my best to spend the mile thinking about that person and having an imaginary conversation with them while they ran to my right as we talked about happy shared memories, and I imagined what they would think of what I was seeing and feeling on the course during that mile.

I offered up miles to some people and let them pick. E chose mile 7. His rationale? "I want something easy, near the front, so that at the end you don't finish and look at me with hatred saying, 'YOU! Your mile SUCKED!'" So, he picked 7. At 6.15 miles I realized it was already the 7th mile and that I should be appreciating E and thinking about him and how he'd like this portion of the race. Instead, all I could think of was E's take on zero-index vs. one-index and how it was proper that I realize that like all proper arrays, the miles in a marathon start at zero, not mile 1.

At mile 11, I started the imagination phase of the race. Grandpa Jack. I hadn't spent a long time thinking about him in quite some time. He passed away when I was 12. He was a math and logic guy. I imagined talking with him about my practice of law and how it was both verbal and something that math and logic guy would enjoy.

I had Grandpa Jack hand me off to Grandma Mary. She was never one to exercise much, so I imagined her making light of my predicament. I imagined telling her that she was one of the more zen people I ever knew and that the older I got, the more I was seeking this state of mind. I imagined asking her for some guidance. At just this point, the barefoot runner Ken Bob ran buy and smiled at me, telling me to have a good race. Ask and ye shall receive...

Grandma Mary handed me off to mom. Sweet mom. I imagined her babbling at me with overflowing love and affection, discussing everything and anything that occurred to her to get me through all of mile 13. And then it was the half.

JayKay got mile 14 and waited for mom to say goodbye in my imagination before she busted out with, "I've got one word for you: Caribou!" This is not funny to anyone except us. But, like JayKay in real life, my imaginary JayKay made me laugh for an entire mile with memories of crying at the McDonald's commercial during the Olympics, pouring wine over a baseball player, true friends will gag each other, blowfish on the windows, mookie rike, and stadiums, lots of stadiums.

Mile 15 I spent chilling with AS. It was a slightly tough mile, but AS is tough and together we laughed at the hill and what people were slowly starting to get quite frustrated about.

Mile 16 I spent imagining myself alongside nish. Unfortunately, I didn't have to imagine the watch of a canadian woman that liked to buzz, beeb, and ring like a bad cell phone every 15 to 30 seconds. It was horrid. I hated the noise. It started to really annoy me and in my mind, Nish agreed. So I took off at a faster pace and left the watch-woman in the dust.

Mile 17 I spent imagining myself running with AIW. I slowed the pace because he would want me to be slow and steady (also, I was exhausted from mile 16 with nish). Unfortunately, the watch-woman returned. I imagined AIW was as annoyed as me, so we picked up the pace and left the watch noises behind.

Mile 18 was my niece. Ironically, it was also the first mile where there were children stationed to cheer you on. All sorts of young, adorable, bright, shiny, loud, enthusiastic, high-five giving children. I could not help but think that my niece would be happy amongst those kids. And I also imagined how great it would be to have my child-niece's legs at this point.

Mile 19 was my bro. I imagined him starting the mile by telling me I was crazy but that he was proud of me, none-the-less. Then, all the cheering people on the course were young baseball players with unkept hair and breaking voices. They reminded me of him in his youth and almost made me teary with nostalgia. They were so sincere and enthusiastic in their cheering for us, it was amaazing.

Mile 20 was my sis. Again, my imagination kicked in and made the experience more fun. Mile 20 was full of gangly teen-age girls, most of whom yelled cheers at the runners. They all reminded me of my sister when she was their age. Beautiful. Long-limbed. Like giraffes. Or Colts. Only yelling at you to run faster in a way that is adorable and inspirational.

At the end of mile 20, I stopped to walk for gu and imagined a chat with A, to whom I'd promised mile 21. She's mentioned that in her marathon mile 21 was approximately where she started dedicating miles to the body parts that hurt the most. I imagined a conversation with her where I was honest about how much my knees hurt, but also, admitted that overall, I was holding up nicely.

Mile 22 was H. I imagined her, like my brother, laughing at my craziness. But, I also imagined her expecting me to run up the hill. After all, I was crazy.

Mile 23 was lucky_girl. There were hills. I could hear her voice saying, "I *hate* hills." I imagined myself coaxing her up the hills for the entire mile. It worked.

Mile 24 was R. Lucky_girl hung out in my imagination for a brief 3-person imaginary run. Then, it was just R and me. I imagined telling R about the girl with labored breathing from lucky_girl's mile who kept catching up to me and then falling behind. I heard her approaching again and turned to her, saying, "What pace are you shooting for?" She GLARED at me. Then, she took off her fuel belt/water bottle carrier and threw it at the nearest house to her left. It hit the house with a large bang. Immediately, R's voice in my head shouted,

Fuck that shit. You don't need her. Let's dust that bitch.

Hilarious! First, if you know R, she'd never actually say this unless it was a joke. Second, who says "dust" to mean go fast? Anyways, this got me to speed up so much that I never saw this girl again. Sweet!

Mile 25 was Miss E. I started the mile imagining telling her how much I appreciated having a running buddy. Then, a group of 4 women runners caught up to me. They made room for me. The were clearly using me as a pacer, but unlike bitter-one-who-threw-water, they silently welcomed me into their group. After 8 minutes or so, we started to drift apart. They had a group commitment and one of their members was slowing. So they all slowed. They were much more committed to staying with one another than being a minute or two faster. I thought this was a very appropriate thing to experience on E2's mile since both of us have done races where we finished with the other person because we wanted to, regardless of whether we could have gone faster.

Mile 26 was dad. I was scared. A few times prior to this mile, I'd thought of him and started to cry-breathe. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my imagination brought the dad of the soccer side lines. Immediately, after I imagined him saying hello and commenting on the gorgeous southern CA weather, I could hear him saying, "see that girl with the ponytail? You'd better pass her." And then, "that guy over there? He's just asking to be passed." Mile 26 was fast. And difficult.

Mile 26.2 was gran. She's been through more in her lifetime than I can imagine. So, I thought it fitting that I dedicate my last few feet of the race to her. It's kind of silly to think about not having the willpower to finish the last 1/5 of a mile when you're thinking about everything the 80-year-old mother to your recently passed away father has been through. So I thought of her and then crossed the finish line in a state of glorious, triumphant, huge-grin, numbness to physical pain.

I did it, AND I spent time imagining and revisiting relationships that are important to me. It was a great weekend.

February 3, 2007

Last Chance to Back Out

[Grin] Not that I'm considering it, I just think it's a funny idea. After 18 weeks of training and sacrifice plus the luck of good weather and not getting injured, theoretically, I could just decide not to run the marathon.

Logically I know this is an option, but I don't really feel like I have a choice. There's too much momentum behind me.

Anyways, I'm excited. Think good thoughts for me tomorrow morning.

February 2, 2007

I love modern endodontistry

No more pain. Slight bruising, and I can't open my mouth that far. But excruciating pain? All gone.

Unlike every other item on the list of my most painful experiences from yesterday, this one can be completely solved in an hour.

What an age we live in!